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Ginger is one of the most popular spices in the world and comes from the underground stem of the ginger plant.
The aromatic and fiery spice has been a signature ingredient in Asian cuisine since ancient times. Today, it is frequently used in medicines, food, and cosmetics across the globe.
Other famous spices in the ginger family include cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) and turmeric (Curcuma longa).
The ginger plant has a thick, branched rhizome (underground stem) with a brown outer layer and yellow centre that has a spicy, citrusy aroma. Every year, it grows pseudostems (false stems made of tightly wrapped leaf bases) from the rhizome which bear narrow leaves. The flowers grow on separate, shorter stems in a cone-shaped spike and are pale yellow in colour with purplish edges.
Beauty and cosmetics
Oleoresin (a mixture of essential oil and resin) extracted from the ginger rhizome has a refreshing aroma and is commonly found in perfumery and cosmetics.
Its striking, cone-shaped floral spikes that are bursting with pale yellow and purplish colours, and its ability to survive in warm, moist climates, make ginger a popular ornamental plant in subtropical gardens.
Food and drink
The ginger spice has been used for centuries to add flavour and aroma to cooking.
The fresh stem is typically used in Asian dishes, whilst the dried, powdered spice is more popular in European cooking.
In the United Kingdom, ginger spice is commonly used for gingerbread, and the underground stem is crystallised or preserved in sugar (known as stem ginger) and added to confectionery.
The ginger rhizome and oleoresin extracts are also used to add fiery flavour to ginger beer and ginger ale.
Ginger is a common ingredient in traditional and folk medicines in India, Burma, Ecuador, and Mexico.
Fresh, preserved, and dried rhizomes, as well as oleoresin extracts, have all been used medicinally.
Ginger can cause allergic reactions when applied to the skin however, and pregnant women should use ginger with caution.
Did you know?
Many species in the ginger family are economically valuable, they are used for their spice, fragrance, medicinal properties, and ornamental value.
Ginger was used by the ancient Greeks and Romans. It was one of the first spices to arrive in Europe from Asia as part of the spice trade.
Where in the world?
Humid, partly shaded areas in the tropics and subtropics.
Find it in our gardens
Our expert horticulturalists grow ginger plants behind the scenes at Kew’s Tropical Nursery.
Ginger grows best in hot and humid conditions with large quantities of nutrients. In the Tropical Nursery, the plants are kept at a temperature of 18-25˚C and at a humidity of 60-75% RH (Relative Humidity).
Throughout most of the year, the plants are watered daily, other than in winter when they are just kept moist. They are fed weekly during the growing season with a balanced fertiliser.
Come winter, the older pseudostems are removed to encourage new ones to develop.
Horticulturalists at Kew produce new ginger plants from part of a parent plant in a process called propagation.
The preferred method of propagating ginger in the Tropical Nursery is by division, either by splitting the mother plant into smaller plants or by removing a section of the rhizome from the mother plant. These are then potted up into a loam-based, general purpose potting soil.
The ginger plant spreads along the ground as it grows so this method is sometimes used in the Palm House to distribute ginger to different locations or to reduce the size of clumps forming in one place.